Time to get ready for the 2020-21 season

Nov 18, 2020 3:10 AM

The NBA is going to ensure you don’t get a chance to long for slam dunks and long 3-pointers, following up a successful run completing the 2019-20 season in a bubble by getting back at it almost immediately.

The league and the players association agreed on a restart date of Dec. 22, allowing for the NBA to maintain its hold on the Christmas Day spotlight. A special schedule featuring the most attractive matchups that can be put together has been the norm for well over a decade-plus. The 2011 lockout-shortened season even began on Dec. 25, so getting things started just before the holiday following a tumultuous last few months is the league’s way of attempting a return to normalcy.

Most games will be played with fans in attendance, although the amount isn’t likely to reach full capacity for anyone. Screenings and vaccines are likely to play a major role in dictating all that, but the NBA got its way by selling players on a shortened schedule featuring 72 games instead of the customary 82. There’s been no talk of expanding the playoffs and free agency will begin later this week on Nov. 20, two days following the annual draft, which is normally held at the end of June.

There are a number of interesting decisions set to be made during free agency that could further alter the NBA landscape, but we’re going to talk draft and early win totals in this column, projecting selections and looking to put money in the pockets of those who got to this piece early enough to take advantage.

There’s a prop out there projecting the top four picks in superfecta fashion that I’ll take a stab at with +880 as the payout. I’m riding LaMelo Ball as the No. 1 choice, Memphis center James Wiseman going No. 2, Georgia wing Anthony Edwards being selected third and Chicago picking Dayton forward Obi Toppin fourth as my combination. Good dart, but there’s no question it’s a blind stab.

The Bulls have a new brain trust in place after years of screwing up through Gar Forman and John Paxson, so it’s anyone’s guess how they wind up handling this first draft with the No. 4 pick. Billy Donovan is Chicago’s new head coach. Toronto native Marc Eversley, a Bryan Colangelo protégé, is the new GM. The roster they inherit features Otto Porter, Jr., who opted in and took his $28.4 million player option, which suddenly becomes a valuable trade chip for a team interested in a steep expiring deal. Coby White and Zach LaVine form a potentially explosive backcourt, while Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. are a new-age 4-5 combo since both have 3-point range and have the size to defend bigs and protect the rim.

Two days before the draft, Phoenix declared itself a player in the NBA title race by trading for Chris Paul and the $80-plus million he’s owed, adding their perceived missing piece to help accelerate the development of Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. The cost of adding Paul and wing Abdel Nader was a 2022 first-round pick, Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre Jr., Jalen Lecque and Ty Jerome.

It’s a decent haul for Sam Presti and the Thunder and could be great if Lecque breaks out. Presti is a great evaluator of talent and clearly sees roles for everyone he’s acquiring. While Lecque is the X-factor, Oubre is a potential home run as a cornerstone next to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and center Steven Adams, who is entering the final year of a four-year/$100 million contract and is very much in play.

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Dennis Schroder is being moved to the Lakers, so Oklahoma City is clearly fine with taking a step back as it looks to better position itself for 2022 and beyond. Schroder’s ability to serve in a closing lineup alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis strengthens the defending champs’ position as the NBA title favorite.

The Thunder may land on the under side of the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook’s projected Season Win Total of 31.5 since Adams could be traded and Schroder and Paul have been, but I wouldn’t count on that. Oubre is a terrific two-way player and Gilgeous-Alexander could flirt with an All-Star bid now that he’ll be the primary playmaker with Paul gone.

With free agency beginning on Nov. 20, look for trades to significantly alter the NBA landscape over the next few weeks. I’ll look to help early bettors with the following few inclinations:

Fade New Orleans (SWT 35.5) : The Pelicans will have to adjust to a different voice in Stan Van Gundy in addition to operating without Jrue Holiday, their leader at both ends of the floor. He’ll be moved so you might want to get ahead of the market given that Zion Williamson’s influence already bolsters that number.

Fade Dallas (SWT 42.5): The Mavericks have a number that is way too high considering Kristaps Porzingis won’t join the active roster until Jan. 1 following knee surgery. Count on Dallas being very careful with one of their franchise players, which will leave them vulnerable in the regular season. This number is far too high.

Ride Miami (SWT 44.5): The Heat play in the weakest division in the NBA and really work hard for Erik Spoelstra. The regular season plays into the hands of a team that takes pride in defending and shares the wealth offensively.

As far as the draft is concerned, look for Iowa State’s Tyrese Haliburton to be the best value pick. Although I believe Edwards is the most likely Rookie of the Year in terms of impact, this is a season where you should take a shot. Haliburton will have a role regardless of where he lands and should wind up on the all-Rookie team. He’s special.

My only other lean besides what I’ve detailed here expects Villanova forward Saddiq Bey to emerge as a lottery pick. His plug-and-play tendencies as a winner will be too hard to pass up.